Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Black Orpheus

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/7/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Based on the Greek tale Orpheus & Eurydice, Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) is a modern-day version of that greek story about an ill-fated love affair between a trolley-car conductor/samba dancer and a young woman in late 1950s Brazil during Carnival. Directed by Marcel Camus and screenplay by Camus, Jacques Viot, and Vinicus de Moraes that is based on de Moraes' play Orfeu do Carnaval, the film is a vibrant re-telling of the Greek tragedy filled with bossa nova and samba music as the result is a spectacular film from Marcel Camus.

It's the time of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro as a young woman named Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) arrives. Accompanied by a crowd of people in shops and such, Eurydice finds herself inside a trolley-car as it is run by a man named Orpheus (Breno Mello). After taking everyone to their stops, Orpheus finishes his shift as Eurydice wonders on how to get to the hills. With help from Orpheus' boss Hermes (Alexandro Constantino), she takes his directions in order, to meet her cousin Serafina (Lea Garcia). Orpheus meanwhile, meets his possessive fiance` Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira) to get ready for their upcoming wedding as well as Carnival where she's the leading lady in the parade float that he's organizing. During a meeting with a clerk for a marriage license, the clerk notices Orpheus' name and mentions the Greek mythology of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Eurydice finally meets Serafina, who is surprised to see that Eurydice has arrived. Eurydice claims that someone is after her which is why she wants to hide in Rio. Serafina is also getting ready for Carnival as she is a friend of Orpheus where he learns that her cousin's name is Eurydice. Hoping to avoid Mira, Orpheus spends time with Eurydice and Serafina while taking two young boys named Benedito (Jorge De Santos) and Zeca (Aurino Cassiano) who learned that Orpheus has his guitar back from the pawn shop. Orpheus claims that whenever he plays guitar late at night, the sun will rise. During the night when rehearsal for the Carnival as Eurydice reluctantly gets involved much to the anger of Mira. Then all of a sudden, a man dressed in a skeleton (Ademar Da Silva) costume claiming to be Death stalks Mira as Orpheus tries to help her.

Spooked by Death, Eurydice is suddenly comforted by Orpheus as an attraction develops with Serafina's boyfriend Chico (Waldemar De Souza) arriving later on. Love blossoms as Orpheus continues to avoid Mira whom eventually learns that Orpheus is falling for Eurydice. With final preparations for the Carnival, things get underway as Mira's jealousy nearly undermines it. With Eurydice wearing Serafina's costume in disguise, Orpheus and Serafina knows who&#146s in it as suspicion arrives for both Mira and Death. Eventually, trouble brews as Death knows what's going on. With Orpheus trying to help Eurydice, he eventually goes into an eerie journey where he meets a janitor in an abandoned building and later a voodoo ritual as Orpheus ponders his own fate and love for Eurydice.

While it's based on the Greek mythology, director and co-writer Marcel Camus's modern re-telling doesn't fall into the cliches of most modern-day adaptations. Instead, he goes for a different location, take the story, and even reference the mythology to move the story forward. The result is a wonderful love story that features the same tragic consequences like the protagonists in the original story deal with.

A major difference is in the film's time period as well as the events of Carnival. Carnival represents an event filled with life and celebration. Amidst these joyous moments, there's chaos due to the hands of Mira and Death. The character of Death is interesting since he doesn't say anything but rather wears a costume, in which the audience knows what he represents. When he's around, it's obvious something is going to happen.

The structure of the script is excellent in how the love story is built in the first and second act. By the third act when Orpheus goes into this strange journey to find out what happened to Eurydice. It's very strange yet is very faithful to the original mythology. While the film's ending confirms what happens in faithfulness to the original ending of the mythology. The aftermath that includes a shot of Benedito playing guitar and Zeca sitting beside him as a little girl dance. There, the mood of the film's ending shifts to something more hopeful.

It's Camus' wonderfully energetic direction that really captures what is Brazil. Even the compositions he creates on those mountains are just breathtaking. Camus' direction also shows the differences of cultures in Rio de Janeiro where from the merchant lot where Eurydice arrives to the actual city and the hills show a vast difference of culture and what was going on in Brazil at that time. There's a lot that Camus captures yet he does it with a lot of energy and color where the spirit of Carnival is evident throughout the film.

Cinematographer Jean Bourgoin's exquisite photography captures the vast beauty that is Rio from the mountain shots overlooking the city to the sunrise/sunset shots in a few sequences. Bourgoin's photography is one of the film's real highlights for its colorful photography that captures the spirit of Carnival. Production designer Pierre Guffroy does wonderful work in creating the float of the Carnival and costumes that plays an important part of the film. Editor Andree Feix does some excellent work in the editing to capture the energy of Carnival as well as the chaos that goes on in the film's second half. Sound editor Raymond Pierre Lemoigne does excellent work in the film's sound to convey the atmosphere of Carnival as well as the chaos in the film's harrowing third act.

The film's music is a real important part of the film and it's captured in great form by Luiz Bonfa and bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim. Whenever the music is on, the film just raises up any scene as the energy of the music with its percussions and everything else just captures the spirit. Even some of the guitar music that is played is wonderfully plaintive while being a nice reference to the film's original mythology. Overall, the film's soundtrack and music is really the heart of the film.

The film's cast is great with the use of amateur actors to give natural yet realistic performances. Along with a cameo by Marcel Camus, the notable minor performances from Waldemar De Souza as Chico, Ademar Da Silva as Death, Alexandro Constantino as Hermes, and the two little boys played by Jorge De Santos and Aurino Cassiano. Those small roles are very memorable as they each play an important part of the story.

Lourdes de Oliveira is excellent as the domineering, jealous Mira who definitely acts like an overbearing, superficial diva. Lea Garcia is great as the sweet, maternal Serafina who is really the one person who sees what good comes out of the relationship between Eurydice and Orpheus. American actress Marpessa Dawn is wonderful as the sweet, shy Eurydice who is spooked by Death as she finds love and joy through Orpheus. Breno Mello is amazing as the joyous Orpheus who finds true love only to become a more desperate, troubled person towards the end of the film as he is forced to believe about his own tragic consequences.

Orfeu Negro is a phenomenal film from Marcel Camus. Armed with a great cast, beautiful locations, and a magnificent music soundtrack. The film is truly one of the most majestic and sensational adaptations of Greek folklore as well as one of the definitive foreign films of the 20th Century. In the end, Orfeu Negro is a dazzling yet enchanting film from Marcel Camus.

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

Awesome review! I love this movie. Such a great treat, and totally unexpected.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. It's been a while since I've seen the film as I hope to get the Criterion DVD later this year.

Chip Lary said...

I thought the tale from Greek mythology translated very well to this time and setting. Everyone involved did a really good job with this one.

thevoid99 said...

@Chip Lary-I think that's one of the reason for the film's success was they took that premise and added something different to it. I hope to revisit it sometime soon.